Tragedy in Alabama: A detailed look at Sunday’s tornado outbreak

Tragedy in Alabama: A detailed look at Sunday’s tornado outbreak
Debris litters a property after a home was damaged by a tornado a day earlier in Beauregard, Ala., Monday, March 4, 2019. (AP Photo/David Goldman) (Source: AP)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Sunday’s tornado outbreak was Alabama’s deadliest since the historic outbreak of April 27, 2011. Here are the storm surveys conducted by the National Weather Service - these detailed evaluations will take you inside the storm’s damage, and give you more perspective on the incredible power of tornadoes.

The strongest tornado of the day was the monstrous EF-4 tornado that hit Macon and Lee counties, tragically killing 23 people.

The tornado touched down just southwest of Rogers Road and just northeast of U.S. Highway 80 in northeast Macon County. Initially some small limbs were broken off of trees along with some pine trees uprooted. The tornado then moved east across Calloway Baker Road and across Glassy Mill Road where more pine trees were uprooted.

The tornado began to strengthen as it moved further east crossing Macon County Highway 43 as it downed additional pine trees then crossed the county line into southwest Lee County. The tornado crossed Lee County Road 29 where the tornado removed the roof and nearly collapsed a quarter of the cinder block walls of a church along with uprooting several trees.

The tornado continued to intensify as it moved north of due east crossing Lee County Road 11 where it peeled back sheet metal off of the porch of a home and ripped some sheet metal off of two outdoor storage sheds and continued to uproot pine trees. Debris from structures and their contents were strewn along a tree line to the east of their original location and some evidence of weak ground rowing was observed along the surface tornado path.

The tornado reached its peak intensity just south of the intersection of Lee County Road 36 and Lee County Road 39 where it rolled a manufactured home and emptied its contents nearby on the northern side of the track while additional damage toward the southern portion of the track included the complete destruction of a house with all debris tossed a short distance from the foundation. The tornado bent the frame of a car around the remnant of a large tree whose upper portion had broken off and totaled three vehicles by severe impacts into the bases of two remaining tree stubs.

Further east on the other side of the small lake, a well-anchored and constructed home was leveled with debris removed from the foundation and anchored bolt screws remaining intact. Toward the northern edge of the tornado, the destruction of two double-wide and a single-wide manufactured home was surveyed. This was the peak intensity of the tornado due to the combination of damage to the two houses along with extensive severe tree damage including trees snapped at their bases and large trees with expansive root systems fallen along with some sporadic evidence of ground rowing.

The tornado began to decrease in intensity as it continued east roughly paralleling Lee County Road 39 where two manufactured homes were destroyed with most debris deposited away from the original location and both of the metal frames of the mobile homes could not be located. Another manufactured home was destroyed with its contents deposited in a swath from the site into the remains of a nearby tree line. A car was found in an overturned position against a hardy tree stripped of most limbs with a mattress from a bed wrapped around the mid portion of the tree. A badly mangled metal frame of a manufactured home and debris displaced nearby was all that remained of one residence.

Nearby a tractor trailer rig was on its side and shoved around a sturdy tree while a nearby site-built home lost nearly all of its exterior walls with debris remaining on or near the home site. Severe tree destruction continued into this area with trees snapped at their bases and uprooted. To the north of Lee County Road 39 significant debris were deposited in the wooded area where the tornado performed significant timber damage and toppled at least one high-tension power line tower visible in the near distance.

After demolishing two double-wide and a single-wide manufactured home the tornado moved northeast and crossed Lee County Road 51 just north of the intersection with Lee County Road 39 where double-wide manufactured home was moved off of its base and the exterior walls collapsed on a family residence while tree damage continued with snaps at the bases of trees. Some weakening occurred further east as the tornado crossed Lee County Road 38 where it deposited a large amount of debris into a ragged forested area. The tornado moved slightly north of due east, crossing Lee County Road 100 and Lee County Road 166 where it caused damage to trees with some trunks snapped and some trees uprooted.

Tornado damage continued further east along Lee County Road 165 and along portions of Lee County Road 40 and Lee County Road 2049 where it collapsed exterior walls of a family residence removed most of the roof of another house and caused some loss of roofing material from a house and a manufactured home then the tornado flipped a manufactured home and deposited its contents nearby along with destroying the roof and walls of a single-wide manufactured home and caused continued tree damage.

The tornado moved east across Lee County Road 170 then turned more to the northeast where it crossed Lee County Road 401 near the intersection with Lee County Road 175 and continued home and timber damage all the way to Lee County Road 241.

The tornado continued northeast crossing Lee County Road 245 and Lee County Road 179 with damage to the roof of a house along County Road 239 along with continued timber damage. The tornado then began to turn more to the east as it approached Phenix City from the west, crossing Lee County Road 239 and portions of Lee County Road 246 then affecting portions of lee County Roads 289, 292, 290 with damage to the roof of a house and timber damage.

The tornado crossed near Fullers Lake area where it rolled a manufactured home over and caused some loss of roofing material to a house. Additional damage occurred along Lee County Road 294 and Lee County Road 298 where a professional building lost some of its roof materials and damage to siding and roofing occurred to several small homes that were not well constructed. As the tornado crossed U.S. Highway 280 it caused some roof damage to a restaurant, damaged a billboard and collapsed a cellular service communications tower.

Timber damage occurred northeast of U.S. Highway 280 along Lee County Road 298. The tornado moved more to the right and affected areas along Lee County Road 318 and 319 where some roof damage to homes occurre​d and much in the way of timber damage resulted. A tree fell and crushed an outbuilding and a single-wide manufactured home lost portions of its roof. The tornado moved northeast from this point toward the Chattahoochee River where it caused roof damage to some houses near the river and downed a metal high-tension power line tower. The tornado crossed the Chattahoochee River and continued to produce extensive damage in Georgia.

No one knew it at the time, but 23 people had just lost their lives. And, incredibly, Macon and Lee counties weren't safe yet. In fact, just twenty minutes later, a second tornado touched down in Macon County and roared into Lee County, following a track very close to the initial tornado.

The tornado touched down near the Mount Andrew community, along Morgan Russel Road. This location is about 4 miles south of Tuskegee. The damage was relatively weak and confined to tree damage as the tornado roughly paralleled Morgan Russel Road and then crossed Gautier Street. The tornado continued on a northeastward trajectory and strengthened as it approached US Highway 29. The most concentrated and highest damage occurred in this location.

Several stands of trees were completely mowed down, with none left standing. Many thousands of trees were downed in and near this spot.

The tornado then crossed County Road 10, Red Road, and County Road 71. Many hundreds of trees were downed along this part of the damage path. As the tornado moved across County Road 24, Fitzpatrick Road and County Road 91, numerous trees were downed, several homes suffered varying degrees of roof damage, a few outbuildings were destroyed, and a farm irrigation system was damaged.

As this tornado moved across US Highway 80 north of Society Hill and into Lee County, it roughly paralleled the path of the previous EF-4 tornado, about a mile or so to the south. The tornado continued northeast and crossed County Road 29, County Road 11, Cave Mill Road, AL Highway 51 (Marvyn Parkway), County Road 166, and finally ended near County Road 170. Numerous trees were snapped off and uprooted through Lee County. Many mobile homes and frame homes suffered varying degrees of roof damage, several outbuildings were damaged and many trees were downed. Two mobile homes were rolled over near the end of the damage path and one person was injured.

The tornado damage path was 29.15 miles long and was 1300 yards wide at its widest point.

As the line moved southward, more tornadoes erupted from the volatile atmospheric setup. A brief tornado touched down just west of County Road 27 in Bullock County. It traveled east crossing County Road 27 and very briefly paralleled County Road 8 before lifting. Only tree damage was observed along the path with several trees snapped or uprooted. No homes were affected by this tornado.

South Alabama hadn’t felt the wrath of these tornadoes yet, but that was about to change. Butler and Crenshaw counties were next.

In Butler County, the tornado formed and damaged an outbuilding near the intersection of Kirkville Road and Steiner Store Road before continuing northeast into a wooded area, where numerous trees were snapped and uprooted. The tornado then crossed Kirkville Road and partially lifted the roof off a one story brick home before dissipating shortly thereafter. This tornado was rated EF-0, with maximum wind of 90 miles per hour.

Then, just across the county line into Crenshaw County, another tornado formed just west of Moseley Road where it snapped and uprooted numerous trees, including one large tree that fell onto a mobile home. The tornado then crossed Moseley Road damaging a nearby outbuilding before moving into a heavily forested area where sporadic tree damage continued. The tornado lifted shortly after crossing Bowden Road.

Sadly, Alabama wasn't done yet. As a powerful supercell moved across northern Barbour County, it produced TWO tornadoes - one northwest of Eufaula, and the other struck the northern parts of the city of Eufaula. Here's the analysis of the first Barbour tornado; it touched down around 3:45pm.

A tornado touched down near Mary C Smith Road, just north and west of County Road 79. This location is between Batesville and Clayton. The initial damage was limited to trees being snapped and uprooted. The tornado moved eastward and crossed County Road 79 and Reverend Crawford Road. Once again, there were numerous trees snapped and uprooted in these areas. The most significant damage occurred just east of Reverend Crawford Road, where all trees in a large area were completely mowed down. Additionally, a large wooden double power pole was also knocked down. This area is still under evaluation.

At this point, the tornado turned to the right, an east southeast direction, eventually lifting between Old Batesville Road and Lugo. Hundreds of additional trees were damaged at this point. The tornado damage path was 6.68 miles long and was 700 yards wide at its widest point.

This tornado lifted, but the storm quickly reorganized, and just a couple minutes later, produced another tornado.

The second Barbour County tornado touched down about 4 miles north of Eufaula, between US Highway 82 and US Highway 431. The tornado started at the very end of Hidden Acres Road, due west of Weedon Field. At this initial point, several trees were knocked down and a few outbuildings were damaged. The tornado continued east northeast and crossed County Road 97. Here, the tornado strengthened slightly.

Numerous trees were snapped or uprooted, a few mobile homes suffered damaged, and a few homes suffered some roof damage. The tornado stayed on its path and entered the Weedon Field complex. This is where the most extensive damage occurred.

Numerous trees around the complex were snapped and uprooted. One home suffered damage, several metal structure buildings were completely destroyed, and several airplanes were damaged or destroyed. The tornado moved eastward and weakened slightly after crossing US Highway 431. The tornado damaged a few buildings and downed trees along Roseland Drive. Some evaluation of the damage east of US Highway 431 is still underway. The tornado then crossed Walter F George Reservoir (Chattahoochee River) and into Georgia and produced additional damage.

This information was compiled from storm survey information from our partners at the National Weather Service Forecast Offices in Birmingham and Mobile. We thank them for their timely warnings and excellent service to the state of Alabama.

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